Video Game Hotline Miami Slanders the Magic City, Says History

Lydia had just left a phone message, and it sounded urgent. "I need a babysitter," she murmured into the Miami man's voicemail from her house on East Seventh Street. "There are a few kids here that need to be disciplined. I really need someone to get through to these rascals, but be discreet!"

Discreet this man wasn't. He climbed into his gray sedan and rolled over to Lydia's place, where he proceeded to bludgeon, stab, and shoot every warm body in a 15-minute frenetic, blood-splattered tirade. The body count reached dozens, but as the man wandered the streets of Miami, there was still more killing to be done.

Hotline Miami is a culturally relevant videogame that slanders the Magic City. The prodigious killing takes many forms: hand-to-hand combat, shootouts, and good old-fashioned stabbings. For its slick 2-D play, the game has bedazzled so many nerds that an Indiegogo campaign to transport it to the big screen last month raised nearly $10,000.

And now, Hotline Miami 2 is set for a 2014 release. But there's just one little problem with the game: It's kind of a fraud. The Swedish creators, Jonatan Söderström and Dennis Wedin, say they've never even been to Miami -- let alone studied it beyond, apparently, watching Billy Corben's 2006 documentary, Cocaine Cowboys.

The inspiration of this game "has to do with that documentary," Wedin said in an interview last year with Eurogamer.net. "It's about drug trading in Miami and -- was it about the early '90s?"

It wasn't. It was about the 1970s. But Corben, for his part, isn't that bothered by the game -- or an exaggeration of Miami's outsize history. "Miami has always been a place that perpetuates a trend of life imitating art and art imitating life," the filmmaker says. "Miami is one of those cities that reinvents itself in that way. Plus, Miami has a grand tradition of violence. Here, if it bleeds it leads."

But historian Paul George, a professor at Miami Dade College, argued against that narrative. He says the city has had a violent history of drugs and gunplay -- no one is denying that. "But what major city doesn't?" he says. "It's an international city, and that legacy has taken on a life of its own. Miami Vice and Cocaine Cowboys have just perpetuated that idea, and it's very exaggerated."

Exaggeration sells. And creators Söderström and Wedin evidently never had to travel to Miami to understand that killing is also an easy sale.

Send your story tips to the author, Terrence McCoy.

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